When I first heard about a new Gospel radio station in Philly, I thought to myself, why? Not why, as in to say we do not need one. But why have a new station if it is only going to remind us that the ones before didn’t last.
Philadelphia and gospel radio’s relationship go much deeper than an entanglement. They go back like a hangover after graduation day in ’95 at Norfolk State and a would be Reverend who would later take on the task of bringing gospel-music back to Philly radio. I know that is eerily specific, but we’ll get to that.
Gospel radio in Philly pre-dates even that defining moment. 1922 to be exact, is when the first gospel music station aired in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, being a gospel city–much to our chagrin, has been without a Gospel radio station since 2018. Its left many to wonder was Philly losing its taste for gospel radio, or did it just need a new flavor.
Favor 100.7 FM, was launched June 8, 2020, in the heat of a pandemic. One of the station’s key initiatives is to uplift and bring positive change to the community as our nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. I had the privilege of having a conversation with the founder of the Favor 100.7 FM, Reverend Jonathan Mason.
Reverend Mason shared a story about his start in media that included his post-graduation hangover, that I was hollering upon hearing about. “I certainly celebrated graduating from college.I ain’t been saved all my life. But that’s another interview for a later time.”
The more I spoke with Rev. Mason the more I identified just how uniquely equipped he is to bring gospel Radio back to Philly. It got me thinking, maybe this time it will be different. “I have been in radio for the last 25 years,” Rev. Mason began to inform me when I asked him why he decided to launch a radio station. “It has provided a living for me and an opportunity to take care of my family. I have had the opportunity to work at some of the largest radio stations in the country.”
Rev. Mason began his career selling at Norfolk, where he credits his learning and most of what he believes to be his basic skills. Soon after he moved to New York City and started to work at Soul Radio for the Howard Stern Show at 92.3 KROC.
For you young lings who have no idea who Howard Stern is, he hosted one of the highest rated morning radio programs in North America with over 20 million listeners 1994-2001. Rev. Mason would then move on from KROC Radio to become one of their sales managers for 10-10 Wins, which is one of the largest news stations in the country.
One of the most impressive things I found out about Rev. Mason during our conversation was how much he values the generation he hopes to reach. For a man with his background and accomplishments he was very humble and appreciative.
Rev. Mason reminds me of a millennial, though he is not a millennial.
His ambition that has put him at the table of “kings” in his industry from Howard Stern, Geraldo Rivera, Son Imus, and Rush Limbaugh. Yet his career path still took him on an independent route.
“My last assignment before I became an independent business owner was being a general sales manager for WABC Radio for eight and a half years,” says the Reverend.
WABC Radio is one of the most iconic signals and one of the first radio signals ever created was 770 WWABC. There Rev. Mason was in charge of sales for the Don Imus show, The Sean Hannity Show, The Rush Limbaugh Show, The Geraldo Rivera Show and The Curtis Sliwa Show.
“All of these and clearly you can see that it was a right leaning radio station,” says the Reverend.
Rev. Mason explained a funny occurrence that would happen often when he would go into a business. One of his salespeople would say, “Oh I’m going to bring my manager with me!” and people would be shocked when this 6 foot 3 black man would show up to talk about Don Imus, and Sean Hannity.
“My belief was this, I certainly don’t have the political leanings of those personalities, but I certainly do believe that you have to know what everyone is talking about in order to make informed decisions.”
This was my “A-HA” moment of the interview. I thought to myself, yup this guy gets it and this radio station is going to be influential, inspiring and involved. I was sold.
Not many people have had the opportunity to work with two of the most transformative icons in all of Radio: Howard Stern & Don Imus!
Rev. Mason talks about the impact of these two icons. “For anyone who has studied Howard Stern, they know he was a trailblazer and has been a trailblazer in repositioning Radio in the 80’s and 90s to what it is today. Don Imus before Howard was a trailblazer. Now, Don Imus got in a lot of trouble a couple of years ago for making some comments about the Rutgers Basketball team. But I will say this, when I went to him and told him that I wanted to build a camp for At-Risk youth in our country, he was the first person to donate to that cause.”
Not only was he the first person, he then gave me 4 hours of his national radio program to do a radiothon where we raised another four hundred thousand dollars for this camp. Camp New Joy exists today in Rustburg Virginia. As a result of the overwhelming support of Dom Imus and his radio audience, I will forever be grateful (may he rest in peace) that camp is now helping young Black, Hispanic, Asian, White, whoever it is, if you’re from the inner city and need a hand up and not a hand out. Camp New Joy is for you. We’re thankful for that.”
In 2015 Rev. Mason started his own media company and advertising agency. In 2018 he decided to expand and he purchased six radio stations! Not 1, not 2, not 3, but 6! LeBron and D. Wade press conference type boldness! Except Rev. Mason is delivered.
Of the six stations, four are in North Carolina and two in Iowa.
“I bought stations that have been existing for a while. Now we’re trying to make them valuable and relevant in the year 2020,” says Rev. Mason.
“But Philly’s Favor is my baby.”
The energy in the conversation changed, as Rev. Mason lit up. Several times the preacher in him came out, and this moment felt like that. He is extremely passionate about this radio station and he goes into detail to explain why.
“Philly’s Favor is my baby because it’s not something that I bought from someone else, it’s something that we created from nothingness,” says the Reverend.
“Radio One did have an FM gospel station in Philadelphia up until 2018, but they changed the format, and now we are the only FM gospel radio station originating and broadcasting in Philadelphia.”
A long way from his hungover post-graduation in Norfolk, this Reverend, an uber successful entrepreneur looking to bring revival to the gospel radio scene in Philly, proves that it was not just about Philly being a great market, Rev. Mason has deep roots in the city.
“My father pastored in Philadelphia for over 50 years and the church that I grew up in he’d pastored for 41 years! The Northeast Baptist church in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.”
“When I started looking for places to build out the radio station and create a broadcast hub, I looked all over but the Lord kept leading me back to the church where I grew up. So we built the radio station in the Northeast Baptist Church,” says the Reverend.
I quickly found out Philly’s Favor is not just a little passion project for the man who has found success throughout his career and was just trying stuff out. 100.7 FM Philly’s Favor is really his baby, and ministry is really his goal!
So much so, that he was willing to build in a section of Philadelphia that has a reputation of being a tough area in the city. But Rev. Mason sees himself building Favor there as an amazing opportunity to do ministry in that community.
“We’re going to uplift this community!”
“The main purpose I built this radio station, this gospel radio station was to do ministry but I also developed this station for small businesses who may not be able to afford some of the more expensive means of advertising and we can give them an opportunity right here at 100.7 FM.”
You almost missed your shouting moments. Re-read that last part, all you small business owners!
Rev. Mason carries joy into this endeavor. He told me he goes to work every day at the church where he pastors, does what he needs to do from a pastoral standpoint, but that joy clearly expands to his work as he mentions his excitement for the team he has that’s moving the radio station forward
With the robust experiences that he has in radio and the personalities that he has worked with, I thought it interesting to see him still have this high level of excitement for a new radio station.
I asked, what most excites you about this radio station, and his response, like a proud father, was that the most exciting part is that we are playing gospel music.
“Philadelphia is a gospel town. Many of the greats came from Philadelphia or came through Philadelphia at points in their career. We are a church community deserving of a full time FM gospel station. So, it excites me to be able to give that to Philadelphia, but what is more exciting is sharing the Good News. This is a gospel radio station, what are we talking about? We’re talking about Jesus Christ! One thing that us preachers always tell our congregates in our sermons is that only what you do for Christ will last.”
The Reverend also says, “this is an opportunity for me to have a business that glorifies God, in doing so it also allows me to work with individuals, and help them grow their careers and be a blessing to the community as well. We’re having a ball!”
Rev. Mason not only has the business savvy, and experience to build a great radio station. Not only does he have deep roots in the city. Not only is he passionate about gospel ministry, but the man is irrevocably in love with gospel music. I asked him about the impact that gospel music has had on his life and he went off!
“Oh my goodness,” was Rev. Mason’s immediate response when asked about the impact of gospel music on his life.
“Well I think gospel music has been one of the foundations and one of the building blocks of my life. I grew up in Roslyn which I guess they call it Abington now – it’s right outside of Philadelphia and I remember that I use to get into a lot of trouble at school. I often fought, talked back. I did a whole lot of stuff. Which is another interview about the redemption story. Because even those that they wrote off still have more chapters in their life.”
The preacher was on fire; I almost ran around the room on that one. We had a good laugh, as he charmingly says,“but I’m not gone preach to you today.”
Rev. Mason recounts that when he would get in trouble at school his father would take television away from him, and the only thing he had for two or three weeks was radio. “What would I listen to on the radio? I would listen to gospel music then I would listen to WCAU AM, which had a show on in the evening called Radio Classics—I know that’s past your generation.”
Yes it is, but man did I enjoy hearing him talk about it.
Back then television was in short supply so most of the entertainment came from radio. He recalled some of the ones most memorable to him. People like George Burns, Gracie Allen, Fibber McGee, Molly the Great Gildersleeve, The Green Hornet, and The Lone Ranger, all of these great, old shows were not on television, they were on radio.
“I would listen to those shows at night and escape into the drama and or comedy of those shows, but throughout the day I was listening to gospel music. Anybody that knows me knows that my favorite gospel artist is Pastor Shirley Caesar out of the Raleigh Durham area in North Carolina, but a worldwide superstar. I used to listen to her sing “No Charge”.
We had full on church in this moment as the Reverend broke out in song—“For the nine months I carried you growing inside me, no charge.”
I used to listen to her say, “don’t drive your mama away, sweeping through the city.”
She is my gospel hero.
“When I grew up and started doing athletics they would send us out to run laps and while everybody else was listening to rock music or MC Hammer saying, ‘I’m gonna to knock you out’ to get them pumped up, I was listening to Shirley Caesar, I was listening to Claire Evans and James Cleveland, I was listening to The Barrett Sisters- still today though I am no longer an athlete but when I’m walking my 5 miles in the morning I’m listening to gospel music! It is a part of my total being. I love it!”
As we spoke about old time shows and radio we traveled down memory lane about and spoke about the first songs he heard on the radio. He remembers the first he heard on the radio was “No Charge.”
“That’s the first one I can actually remember hearing by Shirley Caesar,” says the Reverend. He explains the theme of the song and begins to say the lyrics: “For the months I carried you growing inside me, no charge, for the nights I stayed up with you doctored and prayed with you, no charge. For the times and the tears and the cost through the years, no charge. When you add it all up the full cost of my love is no charge.”
The Reverend explains that, “as a preacher we love analogies because really the analogy she was making was that yes Mother loved us and didn’t charge us for that love but guess who else loved us and didn’t charge us? Jesus loved us and didn’t charge us. When he went to the cross he didn’t charge us. As a matter of fact, he didn’t charge us he paid the cost…I’m starting to preach, let me stop!”
With his great love of gospel music, we discussed what we can look forward to hearing on Philly’s Favor 100.7 FM and Rev. Mason made it clear they were very intentional about who they selected as they wanted to keep the talent local. Talent that would resonate with the community.
The talent includes D.Lee, who has been on radio in Philadelphia for many years. His program is what Rev. Mason describes as basically a gospel comedy show.
They chop it up in the morning! It’s a great show he tells me. They have the legendary Bobby Jones.
“If you know gospel music you know Bobby Jones, you also know he is my fraternity brother, a member of the greatest Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated, where I served as the international president from 2013-2017 but that’s a whole other interview!”
They have Philadelphia’s own Bishop Mary Floyd Palmer, America’s first female Archbishop of the Philadelphia council of clergy, who has a long history in this city.
“I wanted somebody who could be an “Auntie” for the city of Philadelphia. Somebody they could connect to, somebody they could trust, someone they can learn to love. I believe she brings that voice to Philadelphia.”
They have the legendary, Grammy award winning Hezekiah Walker and Neicy Tribbett. They do a program in the afternoon. Rev. Mason let me know there is more talent to come and is very excited about it.
The most interesting programs that I am personally excited about is Favor 100.7 FM’s DJ mix show on Saturday nights from 9 pm-12 am with DJ soul.
Favor may well be the only DJ mix show on a gospel station in the country.
Photo by: Karl Ferguson Jr. (www.karlfergusonjr.com) Rev. Mason jokes about making the station millennial friendly with an APP you can download and listen to it ANYWHERE!
We can look forward to hearing the classics like Clay Evans, James Cleveland, Dottie Peoples, Dorothy Norwood peppered in around artists like Mary Mary, Tye Tribbett, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp, Charles Jenkins. You name it we are playing it says Rev. Mason.
The goal of Favor 100.7 FM is to reach the adults that are in their late 20’s to late 40’s. So they will play a wide array so that we can hit everyone’s sweet spot.
The most dynamic part of Favor 100.7 FM is what Rev. Mason revealed to me which is that they are preparing to introduce an array of topical talk shows on the weekend.
Rev. Mason said to me with true conviction:
“As a Black man, and an owner of a black radio station trying to reach black people we cannot be silent when it comes to the issues of the day.”
“We are going to have some ‘movement focused programming’ on the weekends where listeners can call in and talk, vent but most importantly come up with solutions to change the paradigm.”
Tune into the station, download the app or stream it at phillysfavor.com.